The Seattle Kraken has Ron Francis signed and prepared to lead their franchise as its first-ever general manager. The Hockey League Hall of Famer was an NHL legend before transitioning from player to a front office executive.
Francis, the fifth all-time points leader in the NHL with 1,798 in 1,731 games played, became the director of hockey operations for the Carolina Hurricanes, his former club, in June of 2011. He would later assume the role of General Manager in 2014.
Francis operated as Carolina’s GM from April 28, 2014, to March 7, 2018. He was ultimately relieved of his duties after a tumultuous four seasons. In his duration, Francis’s moves managed to assist in setting up the team for its current success, but also managed to stifle the franchise.
As fans look to the future at what the Seattle Kraken could look like under Francis, here are the five best and worst moves by Francis while he was with the Hurricanes.
Best #5 – Eric Staal
An expiring deal, Staal was looking to play elsewhere and wasn’t contributing to the scoresheet like he once had been. Instead, of dragging out the process and begging Staal to reconsider, Francis capitalized on Staal’s diminished value and brought in assets for the future.
You could argue whether Aleksi Saarela and two second-round picks from the New York Rangers is enough value now, but at the time it was. Staal had a dreadful tenure alongside his brother, Marc Staal, in New York and ultimately decided to leave the Rangers via Free Agency.
The trade looks harsher in hindsight due to Staal’s performance in Minnesota over the past three seasons, but this was a great trade at the time. Staal was the face of the franchise and there was a good chance Staal was going to walk in the offseason.
Francis showed that he was willing to make the intellectual move instead of the emotional one. Staal was the captain. Staal was a cornerstone to the franchise for 13 seasons and was a key reason the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06. However, the writing was on the wall and Francis made the difficult hockey move in order to help his team for the long term. Francis was new to the franchise, but won his first major trade.
Worst #5 – Alexander Semin
Francis did not sign Alexander Semin to his five-year, $35 million extension. That wasn’t his mistake. That mistake came from the prior GM, Jim Rutherford.
After signing Semin to a one-year, $7 million tryout in which Semin recorded 44 points in as many games played, Rutherford felt it was a wise idea to extend the oft-injured Semin for an additional five seasons.
Semin followed up his point-per-game campaign with a respectable 42 points in 65 games played and then subsequently fell off a cliff with 19 points in 57 outings.
Forced to clean up Jim Rutherford’s mess, Francis bought out the remainder of the Russian’s contract; who would eventually return to “Putin-ia” to play in the KHL. He’s been there since 2015.
Though this isn’t Francis’s fault, it was his issue to deal with. Francis was ultimately unable to find a trade for Semin and instead opted to buy out the once 40-goal scorer. Now, the only reason that this is on this list is that the Hurricanes still have to pay $2.3 million to Semin in the 2020-21 season. Semin was ultimately a lose-lose-lose for Rutherford, Francis, and the Hurricanes.
Best #4 – Sebastian Aho
NHL.com lists Sebastian Aho as the 13th best center in the entire league. He’s slotted right behind Mark Scheifle and just ahead of John Tavares. At only 23 years of age, that’s an incredible company to keep.
Drafted 35th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Finnish forward is the premiere rookie from the Francis-era. In his first NHL season, Aho became the youngest player in Hurricanes/Whalers history to record a hat-trick. What’s more impressive is the versatility in which he scores.
In that performance alone, Aho captivated fans with his edge-work, his two-way game, and his quick release. It’s a truly remarkable performance, especially from such a young player and Aho has since continued to build upon his rookie campaign.
Francis hasn’t always made the best of choices on draft night (look no further than Jake Bean), but Aho was the steal of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and Francis deserves credit for bringing in such a tremendous talent.
Worst #4 – Scott Darling
Goaltending woes were a consistent fixture in the franchise during Francis’s time in Carolina. Heck, they still are a topic of concern. Francis tried to remedy the sickness back in 2015 with a trade for the Chicago Blackhawks’ Scott Darling; a trade that fans would quickly groan at.
It wasn’t so much the price of acquisition – a third-round pick – but the four-year, $16.6 million contract that Francis immediately penned him to. Francis felt that the then Blackhawk’s backup was prepared to start for a club of his own. This was proven to be a false assessment.
In his first season and as a Hurricane, Darling posted an atrocious 3.18 goals-against average (GAA_ and a .888 save percentage (SV%) in 43 games played. He would play only the one season in Carolina under GM Francis and coach Bill Peters. In his second season, Darling found himself behind Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney.
New head coach, Rod Brind’amour played Darling a total of eight games that season and on June 30, 2019, Francis’s replacement, Don Waddell, shipped Darling and a 6th-round pick to Florida in exchange for James Reimer.
Best #3 – Teuvo Teravainen
In an absolute L.L. Bean-fleece of a trade, Francis turned a second-round pick in 2016 (Artur Kayumov) and a third-round in the 2017 draft (Keith Petruzzelli) into Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.
Due to Bickell’s now known condition, this is a heartbreaking trade to look back on. Bickell helped the Chicago Blackhawks take home two of their three Stanley Cup victories in the 2010s and was subsequently awarded a four-year, $16 million contract. Shortly after, Bickell’s health issues intensified, and Bickell, unknowingly sick, struggled to remain in the lineup which led him to become the subject of scrutiny.
In what was simply a salary dump at the time, the Hurricanes agreed to take on Bickell’s remaining salary, but they would only do so for a price. That price was the highly-touted prospect, Teravainen.
Teravainen had just become a permanent fixture in the Blackhawks lineup when the Hurricanes acquired the then 21-year-old. Now 26 years old, Teravainen has been nothing short of spectacular for the Hurricanes. In 313 regular-season games with the Canes, the man they call “Turbo” has posted 245 points and has an outstanding even-strength Corsi rating of 56.3 to match.
Had the Blackhawks and Bickell known his condition then, this trade probably wouldn’t have happened. The Blackhawks instead found themselves on the bad end of a salary situation.
In a fervent onslaught against the NHL’s salary cap, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wrote:
In the long run, however, this trade could be a game-changer for the Hurricanes. When they traded Eric Staal to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, they received a prospect and second-round picks in 2016 and ’17. Given that they gave up a second-rounder in 2016 and a third-rounder in ’17, they essentially got Bickell and Teravainen for Staal, a declining asset they had no interest in re-signing. That’s some good managing by Ron Francis right there.
Despite his frustrations with the fueling factors that necessitated the trade, Campbell gave Francis the appropriate credit. Francis saw an opportunity to acquire a talented asset and, in a rare moment, made the brave trade.
Worst #3 – Victor Rask
Victor Rask is/was simply a solid player unable to live up to the contract. After a decent 2015-16 season where Rask scored 21 goals and assisted on 27 others, Francis extended a $24 million contract to the second-line center; a six-year deal that would quickly look like a mistake… which it was.
Drafted 42nd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Rask transitioned from the Charlotte Checkers to the Hurricanes at the start of the 2014-15 season.
His first season in red, white, and black was promising. The rookie posted 11 goals, 22 assists for 33 points in 80 games played. What led to his massive payday was his sophomore season. While playing ample time with Jeff Skinner, Rask scored 21 gales and 27 points for 48 points – a total that Rask has yet to meet again.
GM Francis felt that the restricted free agent was worth the gamble. If Rask had continued to build upon his production this would have been a bargain deal for the Canes. However, it proved to be the opposite. Rask’s production dropped off the next two seasons and it all came to end for Rask shortly after an accident at home.
While cutting sweet potatoes in his kitchen, Rask slipped with the blade and wound up cutting into his right hand; more than nicking a finger or two. Due to this self-inflicted injury, Rask played a total of 26 games for the Canes that season and was then shipped to the Minnesota Wild in January of 2019.
Between the two clubs that season, Rask played 49 games and amassed 9 points.
Best #2 – Mr. Consistency
Other GMs have shown that they are willing to mortgage the future of the club for a chance to win today. Francis is not that type of GM. In fact, the Seattle Kraken should expect Francis to be the exact opposite.
Kraken fans, or Krakheads, should expect Francis to prioritize homegrown talent as he did in Carolina. In fact, the majority of his moves were done internally. All of his external moves, trades and signings, were highly calculated and relatively “safe.” The trades involving Staal and Teravainen are the most prominent deals in terms of star-power and his free agency signings were for the most part role-players on one or two-year deals.
Instead, Francis focused on the players that began with the Hurricane organization. The biggest being the re-signings of Jaccob Slavin (seven-year, $37.1 million) and Brett Pesce (six-years, $24.15 million) to team-friendly deals. Francis invested in his current players’ talent instead of looking for outside talent.
It’s clear that Francis saw more value in assets than trades or free agency. This approach helped build a strong foundation in North Carolina and could do the very same in Washington. However, his approach, his process, was only working with Carolina until it clearly wasn’t…
Worst #2 – Mr. Consistency…
The second worst move for GM Francis is the lack thereof. When the ship would start sinking, Francis was notorious for doing nothing. Perhaps too afraid to make a splash, he was consistent to a fault and attendance suffered because of it.
From the 2014-15 to 2017-18 season, Carolina averaged the fewest home attendance numbers in the entire league. Under Francis, the Carolina Hurricanes averaged 12,845 fans per night per game. The second-lowest in that span is the Arizona Coyotes with 13,228 fans per home game.
You can’t blame the market itself, because when the team was good the fans showed up. After winning the Stanley Cup in the 2005-06 season, the Carolina averaged over 17,000 fans per game. And it wasn’t until the 2014-15 seasons did those numbers drop below 15,000. This is a top-down issue. The team wasn’t exciting and they weren’t winning.
|2019-20||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes*||68||38||25||5||81||.596||0.41||-0.02||4th of 8||Lost NHL First Round||R. Brind’Amour (38-25-5)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2018-19||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes*||82||46||29||7||99||.604||0.26||-0.01||4th of 8||Lost NHL Conference Finals||R. Brind’Amour (46-29-7)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2017-18||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||36||35||11||83||.506||-0.35||-0.01||6th of 8||B. Peters (36-35-11)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2016-17||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||36||31||15||87||.530||-0.21||0.05||7th of 8||B. Peters (36-31-15)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2015-16||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||35||31||16||86||.524||-0.31||0.03||6th of 8||B. Peters (35-31-16)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2014-15||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||30||41||11||71||.433||-0.44||0.02||8th of 8||B. Peters (30-41-11)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2013-14||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||36||35||11||83||.506||-0.29||-0.01||7th of 8||K. Muller (36-35-11)||Metropolitan||Eastern|
|2012-13||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||48||19||25||4||42||.438||-0.65||0.02||3rd of 5||K. Muller (19-25-4)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2011-12||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||33||33||16||82||.500||-0.39||-0.02||5th of 5||P. Maurice (8-13-4), K. Muller (25-20-12)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2010-11||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||40||31||11||91||.555||-0.08||-0.04||3rd of 5||P. Maurice (40-31-11)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2009-10||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||35||37||10||80||.488||-0.37||-0.05||3rd of 5||P. Maurice (35-37-10)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2008-09||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes*||82||45||30||7||97||.591||0.11||-0.05||2nd of 5||Lost NHL Conference Finals||P. Laviolette (12-11-2), P. Maurice (33-19-5)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2007-08||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||43||33||6||92||.561||-0.15||-0.18||2nd of 5||P. Laviolette (43-33-6)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2006-07||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes||82||40||34||8||88||.537||-0.29||-0.15||3rd of 5||P. Laviolette (40-34-8)||Southeast||Eastern|
|2005-06||NHL||Carolina Hurricanes*||82||52||22||8||112||.683||0.29||-0.13||1st of 5||Won Stanley Cup Final||P. Laviolette (52-22-8)||Southeast||Eastern|
Those numbers have gone up since Wadell took over prior to the 2018-19 season. This only proves that the fault did in fact lie on management and not the market itself. Francis, the former President of Hockey Operations and General Manager for the Hurricanes, simply put a boring product on the ice.
In his two years as General Manager, Waddell has already done far more than Francis did. Waddell has traded for Dougie Hamilton, Vincent Trocheck, and Brady Skjei. He somehow managed to turn Rask and his aforementioned contract into Nino Niederreiter. He signed the likes of Ryan Dzingel, Jake Gardiner, Jesper Fast, and Peter Mrazek, and he drafted the young and brilliant Andrei Svechnikov.
Most importantly, Waddell has made it to the post-season not once, but twice in two seasons. Waddell took the foundation that Francis left him and built it into a contender. Francis could have done the same, but instead chose to stand pat time and time again.
Best #1 – Justin Williams
As mentioned, Francis never brought in a top free agent. He might have tried, but it never happened. Carolina routinely brought in role-players on short-term deals, but Francis never snagged a true name in free agency.
Enter 36-year-old, Justin Williams. He’s not a typical name per se, but Williams is a winner and is the largest free-agent signing in the Francis-era.
Williams has been in the National Hockey League for so long that he and Francis were actually teammates briefly. Closer to the turn of the century, during the 2003-04 season, Williams was traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Canes where Francis captained the Hurricanes. Less than two months later, Francis was traded from Carolina to the Toronto Maple Leafs and finished off the final season of his remarkable career.
Williams was a part of the 2005-06 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina roster and would later win another pair of titles with the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Williams, nicknamed “Mr. Game 7”, was brought in specifically to lead and mentor his Hurricane teammates; which he would go on to do.
However, the three-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner was unable to do so under Francis due to then-coach…
Worst #1 – Bill Peters
Enough has been said on the subject and on the man. There’s no reason to further examine this man or his trespasses anymore. What’s concerning here is how Francis handled the situation. As a former player and an all-time NHL legend, Francis should have known better. He should have never allowed Peters to remain in Carolina.
At the end of the day, Francis sided with management and enabled a toxic coach. He then further validated Peter’s methods by signing him to an extension. Yes, they improved from an abysmal 71 point season, but not enough to validate his behavior. The Hurricanes could have won the Stanley Cup and that would still not excuse his hateful, abusive, and prejudice “coaching methods.”
By many accounts, Peters was a tyrant prior to and after Carolina and actively sought out opportunities to oppress his players. His methods are dated and unacceptable and Francis chose him over his players.
Francis has since stood by his decision to extend Peters and articulated that he “appropriately handled” the situation, but regardless, this decision has not aged well. Hopefully, this type of mistake won’t reoccur in Seattle.
Hopefully, Francis has taken note of his previous mistakes and will build upon them in Seattle. Francis clearly possesses the ability to build a strong foundation, but has yet to show that he’s capable of taking a team to the post-season. Perhaps he will look to Waddell and see what he did with the team he helped build. Seattle is a clean slate for Francis and is an opportunity to continue his legendary career in the NHL.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on Seattle’s first GM?
Daniel Blanda, a Journalist, Playwright, and Screenwriter based in Boston, MA covers the Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. He has previously contributed work to “Snipetown: The Voice of Hockey” magazine and the “Hockey Addict’s Guide New York City.” He was a youth hockey coach and a professional skate sharpener for Westside Skate & Stick while living in Queens. Daniel also writes for BlueLineStation.com covering the New York Rangers.